Police departments everywhere have a serious problem and I have a modest proposal of how to solve it.
The problem is that the police are not trusted in the communities where they are most needed. My own experience in gentrified Manhattan is instructive here. I'm a law-abiding citizen who lives on Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. I see police every single day and I'm glad they are here to help out if necessary. Yet as I pass them, invariably ensconced in their cars, I try -- and fail -- to make eye contact, my efforts to humanize our experience earning me a blank stare in return. Nothing, nada. I nod and say hello. No reaction. No sign of recognition. I don't exist.
Serious crime in New York City (and generally nationwide) has been increasing in the last two years creating a problem for police (not to mention the rest of us). Mayor Bill de Blasio and police brass are increasing patrols in neighborhoods where the spike is the greatest, but recent protests against police brutality and the #blacklivesmatter movement puts the cops in a bit of a bind: Insert police in troubled areas and bad things are likely to happen. De Blasio says what's needed is for the police "to win trust in minority communities often most ravaged by violence."
But how is that going to happen? What steps are being taken to gain trust? Is there a plan? How can the police win trust if they're unwilling to interact with the community they are meant to protect.
What I propose is a community outreach program where police are posted in high pedestrian traffic areas with the purpose of actually speaking to passersby. They can say hi, be friendly and courteous, even smile. With foot patrols few and far between, the police need to come out of their cars, they need to meet and greet and put on a happy face. This is brand building at its most basic. Will this solve all of our problems? Definitely not. But it's a step in the right direction and we need our police to make the effort.